24
Aug
12

Crossing Swords: Game of Thrones Poorly Reviewed

Translating a written story into one that can be told on screen is one of the most common but also one of the most disappointing types of film or television. For every success in this regard there have a score of failures. In truth though, another problem can be simply weak source material or a story that doesn’t lend itself well to a visual medium[1]. Curiously, science fiction, fantasy and comic books appear to be the genres in which misses are the most common. Some of this undoubtedly is the weakness in the original work (Twilight, I’m hip-thrusting in your direction) but often in the case of comic books, the original story is redone so many times over the years, the screenwriters have wide leeway outside of the basic story to create a new narrative, as opposed to a linear fantasy such as Lord of the Rings. However, more often than not the films get bogged down in trying to appeal to too broad an audience and become a mish-mash of nonsensical plots (Daredevil, Green Lantern, Elektra, Ang Lee’s The Hulk, Spiderman 3, Superman Returns, Spawn, any of the Punisher movies, even Batman fell prey to this). Graphic novels often provide some focus given that there is typically only one iteration of the story, although even those can become overwrought shlock-fests: 300 and to an extent Sin City; whereas A History of Violence was executed brilliantly.

Fantasy can provide even more of a problem given diehard fans fanatical devotion to the books and the broader audience’s lack of patience and even outright confusion at a complex or too much inside information in a storyline. Peter Jackson handled this deftly with Lord of the Rings which largely satisfied both segments whereas the ham-handed television adaptation of Flash Forward broke down far too quickly. One of the most successful translations is Game of Thrones, though there may be some argument over its faithfulness to the original. I admittedly have not read any of the books and can only base my knowledge of the George R.R. Martin works off the excellent Cast of Thrones podcast[2] (COT), which has done an estimable job filling in some of the blanks around the characters and adding some depth to the plot, particularly to the mish-mash of season two.

The first season was a rousing success for the opposite of the reason season 2 was at times sloppy and enervating—the first season had two main stories while the second had a shotgun blast of plots and subplots. The first season was primarily about the (a) Stark family in Westeros and (b) Daenerys Targaryen in primarily the Dothraki Sea.  The Stark family story breaks off into various family members and Lannister characters, particularly Tyrion, having standalone arcs, but half of season one is essentially the story of the dissolution of Stark household, which only becomes more frayed in season two. Daenerys provides the other half, carrying the story almost single handedly and providing the coda for season one. This focus would provide problems for season two.

The showrunners did an admirable job with what they had to work with in an increasingly crowded and disparate story. From what I can tell, they handled Theon Greyjoy’s betrayal of Rob Stark much better than it was in the book—where it was essentially unexplained[3]—helped in no small part by Alfie Allen’s tremendous performance that actually managed to make Theon’s predicament sympathetic despite what a spectacular douchebag he is. Other things they nailed:

  • The Battle of Blackwater Bay: it rubbed some booktrolls the wrong way due to the absence of a giant Tyrion designed chain to trap the attacking ships into river leading into the bay. Given the limited resources, the producers did a fantastic job in this battle scene while also providing the most focused and best episode of the season, possibly of the series thus far, and one that was written by Martin himself.
  • Locations: again this season, the show was beautifully shot, particularly in the Icelandic settings for those scenes north of the Wall. The effects for Harrenhal were haunting. The sets and scenes for the Iron Islands and Renly Baratheon’s camp at Storm’s End were also sharp versus the more closed set feel of much of King’s Landing and Rob’s camp.
  • Dialogue, Most Casting, Performances: these remained sharp as ever and the writers remained focused on the intrigue girding the story that made this, with any faults it had, some of the best television viewing available.

Onto the things that the show could have done differently, which mainly concern the plot, although only this first bullet is something the show definitely stumbled whereas the others are more of a preference:

  • By the far the biggest, problem was the situation surrounding both Bran and Rickon’s supposed demise and Catelyn Stark releasing Jaime Lannister to retrieve her daughters, both of which she believes are being held in King’s Landing. COT drilled this point as a departure from the book and one of the most baffling since the changes the show made did not seem to be done for any reason. In the novel, Bran and Rickon escaped with Osha and Hodor (and their direwolves) and almost immediately doubled back to Winterfell once they had doused their trail in a river. Theon did likewise as show, finding two other children to tar and burn to make it seem like he had killed the two Stark boys. The show was close but not exact to this point in not being able to sell it—few believed that the two had actually been killed. However, if they had committed to it more and hadn’t inexplicably had Theon prevent word of their death from leaving Winterfell by slaughtering ravens[4], when the news reached Robb’s camp, it would have provided a much more compelling reason for a distraught Catelyn to attempt to strike a deal with the Lannisters for her daughters. COT pointed out the emotional import of the season one scene where Robb and Catelyn are in a tearful rage after they discover Ned has been executed. If they were worried about treading the same ground, they could have played this one as more absolute shock and despair, particularly on the part of Catelyn, as the Starks are winning battles but are somehow losing their entire family. What is inexplicable is that taking this course likely wouldn’t have consumed more time or effort on the part of the show, but would have made the story flow better and not made Catelyn’s actions so completely irrational.
  • All of Daenerys’s scenes, which speaks to a larger problem in the season of the multiplication of characters and storylines. Admittedly the showrunners were trapped when they capped season one with Daenerys’ dragons and thus had to factor her in rather consistently into season two. The problem is that George R.R. Martin don’t give a fuck and doesn’t have Daenerys do a whole hell of a lot in the second book, as exemplified in the series. I think the initial episodes’ usage of the comet to transition from place to place was effective, although it would portend a certain short attention span for each storyline in any given episode that hampered the season. Again, as opposed to the first, this season had three distinct storylines:
    • The Night’s Watch incursion beyond the wall with the focus on Jon Snow
    • Daenerys’ struggle to keep her small and weak khalasar together
    • The struggle for territory and power in Westeros, which has several subplots:
      • Robb Stark’s army and Catelyn’s ambassadorship
      • Renly and Stannis Baratheon’s rival claims to the throne and attempts to command an army to lay siege to King’s Landing – the Tyrell’s are mixed up in this
      • The Lannister’s hold on the crown in peril, divided into Tywin’s field command and Tyrion’s stewardship of King’s Landing – Sansa Stark is mixed up in this
      • Arya Stark and Gendry’s journey through Westeros which intersects with the Lannisters
  • Admittedly this is a lot of threads to work together and the show did manage to keep all the plates spinning, for instance working Arya in with Tywin, which led to some memorable scenes and also conserved time by letting the audience know what was happening with both of them simultaneously. However, the show did sacrifice emphasizing the dire conditions are Harrenhaal during Arya’s time there, namely after Tywin arrived, although it did suggest a return to initial conditions under the Mountain when Tywin leaves for King’s Landing. Naturally, the show had to focus on the struggle for territory and power in Westeros since the bulk of the action is had there.
  • The producers could have split each story part into its own episode and established contemporaneous time with a marker such as the advent of the comet. This would have been difficult to manage without seriously confusing people however. Alternatively, they could have blocked off Jon Snow’s and Daenerys’ stories since neither really affects the Westeros power struggle (although both portend to in the future). Giving the two stories each one half of maybe two to three episodes—perhaps one are the beginning and one at the end of the season and marked by something like the comet—would have allowed the showrunners to focus more fully on the Westeros plot without jumping around quite as schizophrenically. This may have led people to question what the hell Dany was up to but in either this case or how the program was actually film the answer is only two things: jack and shit.
  • As for Daenerys actual scenes, it is interesting that they gave her more to do in terms of having her dragons stolen but they failed to elaborate more fully on what exactly Xaro (XXD) was aiming for in a marriage proposal. COT noted that it was supposedly Qarth tradition to grant one’s spouse any request on the wedding day—for Dany it would have been half of XXD’s allegedly fantastic wealth while Dany would have found out he meant to ask for one of her dragons. Dany could have been warned by Quaithe who was discovered by Ser Jorah, instead of bumbling around with only a vague desire for ships. XXD simply had the dragons stolen for Priya Pree in return for control of Qarth, perhaps by maneuvering himself to control each of the Thirteen’s business propositions in the event of their death. In the book, Qarth was controlled by several groups, the main one not even the Thirteen but eliminating this filler was probably wise.
  • Curiously the show also changed the House of the Undying from a long rectangular tent-like structure to a stone tower. It supposedly also substantially changed Dany’s experience there. Previous to entering she had received instruction from Quaithe on how to navigate the labyrinth, which she did not in the show. Secondarily, her experiences were considerably more surrealistic and haunting than the series of tests she went through in the show—the first of which didn’t even seem to be a test as a snow drenched iron throne, in a possible vision of the future under the White Walkers (aka Double Dubs), wasn’t terribly appealing.  In the book Dany also allegedly heard several prophecies, one of which will guide her future actions, though COT admitted it would be difficult to do this in a visual medium without spoiling the story. A longer segment of Dany within the House of the Undying would have been better given this experience was the crux of her story in the second book; however, the show as constructed in the second season made it nearly impossible since they couldn’t do the scene until the finale and had to cram it in next to other plot wrap-ups.
  • A considerably bolder strategy for the producers would have been to produce the battle for Westeros as they had done in the past, but to hand over the other two plot lines to wholly different directors reflecting the very different conditions and, to an extent, concerns of the characters. Budget constraints would have been tight on this unless they could have convinced the directors to muster some alternate capital. For the wintry, mysterious and unsettling scenes in the North, some directors that come to mind with experience in this area are:
    • Tomas Alfredson – directed Let the Right One In, a slow burn in wintry Sweden that is extremely unsettling and deals with moral ambiguity much as Jon Snow encounters in the wilds past the Wall
    • Terry Gilliam – an older director with some decidedly landmark films to his credit (though considerably average of late)  and experience with a largely British production as the sole American member of Monty Python
    • Luc Besson – director of Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element with experience working with an international cast
    • Louis Leterrier – much of his filmography is mediocre at best but Unleashed, which was a collaboration with Besson, was inspired
    • Matt Reeves – Let Me In, which I consider decidedly inferior to the original but Reeves did produce a well shot film
    • Martin McDonagh – definitely makes more modern movies but In Bruges was considerably more dark than the trailer suggests and made use of the cold environment
    • Scott Frank – an accomplished screenwriter who wrote and directed the underappreciated The Lookout
    • Alfonso Cuarón – wrote and directed both Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men, both unconventional films with the latter definitely high concept with wide landscapes and a decided sense of unease running through the entire film
  • Decidedly more expensive directors unless they took to the project :
    • David Fincher – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was haunting in its cold, bleak landscape
    • Michael Mann – has some skill in managing historically distant, natural settings with the powerful Last of the Mohicans. He has extensive experience in television, albeit two decades ago, with Miami Vice and his visual style is always provocative,
    • Chris Nolan – a pipe dream given his time spent with feature films and the Batman trilogy but Insomnia involved both rural environments and mystery.
  • For Dany’s segment, Tarsem Singh, who wrote, directed and largely financed the unique and visually arresting The Fall, would have been a solid choice. His visual style, as well as aversion to CGI, would be excellent for both the unusual land of the Red Waste and Qarth and especially if Dany’s journey in to the House of the Undying were to become suitably surreal. Another possibility for this segment is Guillermo del Toro, director of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth but likely far more expensive.
  • Cersei’s capture of Tyrion’s personal escort and attempted extortion. In the television version, Cersei mistakenly arrests and flogs Ros, believing her to be Tyrion’s favorite on account of a Lannister Lion necklace she wears[5]. In the book, Tyrion goes through an elaborate ruse to visit Shae at a house separate from the castle, pretending to see another prostitute, who is in league with him, while actually seeing Shae. In the film version, Shae stays in the castle itself with Tyrion (which seems rather reckless given Tywin’s prohibition on it) and becomes one of Sansa’s handmaidens when she becomes bored (also dangerous). The book version may have eaten more time particularly if they had to finagle a way to have Shae wind up in Sansa’s service, which did not occur in the book. However, although Tyrion and Ros have obviously met in the show, their relationship doesn’t seem particularly meaningful whereas in the book when Cersei captures the prostitute who is helping cover from Shae and him, his reaction is a bit more genuine though he is still relieved it isn’t Shae herself. Ros could have easily filled this role in the show and made her abuse at the hands of Cersei more impactful, though it would have been difficult to find how to work Shae into Sansa’s service:
    • Varys discovers her and offers her the position after Tyrion’s deceit with respect to marrying off Myrcella. This would also eliminate him as an informer when Cersei pounces (or perhaps a stronger ally in throwing Cersei off the scent).
  • In the book version of the battle of Blackwater Bay, Tyrion’s masterstroke is not only the wildfire on boats—as opposed to trying to catapult it at the ships—but an enormous chain stretched across the bay to block the attacking ships’ potential retreat from the fire[6]. I personally don’t have a problem with them leaving it out as it stretched credulity and would have been horrendously expensive to depict in any realistic fashion. However, the incident served to strongly reinforce the notion of Tyrion’s engineering genius that the show has only hinted at—Bran’s horse riding brace and the mention of Tyrion’s sewer improvements in one city in his charge. There could have been other attempts to demonstrate this prowess such as the construction of wildfire sea mines sowed by a backup fleet to block the escape or the creation of siphoning mechanisms aboard ships as actually existed for Greek fire and were an integral part of the weapon system, but each would also suffer from the expense of filming it. All in all, a somewhat disappointing omission but an eminently understandable one given budget and time constraints.
  • Jon Snow acting like an idiot. Now, some of this is understandable and even expected given his youth and naiviete, but by the end of the season you realize that Jon has been repeatedly knocked out and had his awesome sword stolen roughly twenty times. The departure from the book occurs when Jon is on the mission with Qhorin Halfhand and, after failing to kill Ygritte, goes chasing after her. In the novel, he merely lets her go and rejoins Qhorin to continue. The group eventually is tracked by the wildlings and is slowly picked off before being captured. In the show, Jon’s dalliance with Ygritte draws Qhorin’s team into a trap when they try to find him, essentially making Snow responsible for the team’s demise. This could have also been the case in the book with Ygritte escaping and leading the wildlings to the group, however Jon appears considerably more bumbling in the show rather than simply being unable to kill an unarmed woman. Granted the show version includes some more interaction between Ygritte and Jon, including the infamous butt wiggle, although this might been accomplished by having them interact after capture in a similar manner. In any event, the show did not quite ram home the point as well that after Jon and Qhorin are seized, Qhorin’s plan is to sacrifice himself to ingratiate Jon to the wildlings to make him an effective spy. I have the sense in the book it was played more deliberately with the two becoming desperate as their squad is picked off by pursuing wildlings until Qhorin concedes capture but telling Jon that he is to make Lord of Bones et al think he is betraying the Night’s Watch by doing anything they ask him to—including eventually killing Qhorin in a fight. In the show, Qhorin has much of the same plan but it is more haphazard and not as convincing as Jon’s battle with Qhorin doesn’t appear to be a test conducted by the wildlings to prove his loyalty as much as a defense from Qhorin’s sudden attack.
  • Some smaller things:
    • The white walker special effects. Oh man, the wights and the zombie horse have been pretty eerie but unfortunately the showrunners went full CGI for the White Walkers. A solid rule for those trying to create a terrifying creature: don’t use CGI. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King alluded to early film special effects that if the audience saw the monster costume’s zipper, they immediately lost interest; this was an analogy for horror in general in that if the suspension of disbelief broke even slightly the audience’s engagement and terror dropped exponentially. CGI, while excellent in this show for the dragons, which aren’t meant to be particularly unsettling, are typically not effective for creepy entities. Even more confusing was that the white walkers basically resemble humans, albeit with exposed jaws and whatnot, but all things that would appear to be fully able to do with more traditional make-up and effects. CGI is almost always a great big zipper for unsettling images—the eye doesn’t buy it as real and loses a sense of revulsion. This doesn’t matter as much for the clearly fantastical or comically amazing (as with the dragons in Game of Thrones, so with the effects in The Avengers or Avatar). One major motion picture to screw this up in a similar way was I Am Legend, an all-around decent film with a solid performance from Will Smith wrecked by horrendous and inexplicable use of CGI for the main enemy (N.B. that is the final scene in the film). Compare this with the marauding creatures in the significantly lower budget The Descent which largely avoided CGI in favor of humans in costume and advantageous camera angles.
    • Even in the realm of CGI, there is a gap between the white walkers:

    • Budget is an ongoing concern with the show and CGI may be cheaper than putting someone into make-up sufficient to create a Double Dub—and hopefully this was the case where they chose not to do it for a brief shot at the end of the season but will revert to more traditional make-up (or at least higher quality CGI) when the walkers appear again. However, continuing with the current CGI, while possibly less expensive, mars one of the most important aspects of the series, which appears, in my mind, to be an ultimate battle between the dragons against an invading horde of white walkers whose primary weakness seems to be flames—a song of ice and fire. And yet budget doesn’t even seem plausible as they seemed to use make-up (or least better CGI) on the goddamn horse:

    • Cersei’s anger at Tyrion marrying Myrcella off to Dorn. Although it made some sense given the fact that Tyrion did not consult her and the act served as an ugly reminder that Cersei herself had been married off for political reasons, one would have thought that she would have been at least relieved that Myrcella was being placed out of range of Stannis’ potential wrath. However, what is not explained by the show, as mentioned by COT, is that apparently during the Lannister-Bartheon-Stark overthrow of the Targaryens, one of the Dorn ruling family members was brutally killed by Lannister men. Despite the fact that such grudges seem to be often buried for political reasons (Tyrion demonstrates this to Baelish as he announces his possible intention to wed Myrcella to a family that tried to have him killed only months ago), it would explain why Cersei wasn’t at least comforted concerning Myrcella’s safety.
    • It is difficult to determine was is going on in most of Westeros during the war and why the situation in King’s Landing is so bleak, aside even from the threat of Stannis. We get some sense that the Mountain is wreaking havoc amongst the countryside and even the Stark bannermen are ruthless (as Brienne’s eventual slaying of three Stark-allied marauders would attest) but we have less of a sense of the loss of law and order that has led to unchecked attacks by roving bandits or deserted soldiers. This could have been demonstrated more fully in the Arya scenes as COT explained in the book the Night’s Watch party repeatedly passes through deserted and destroyed towns on their way north before running into the Lannister soldiers. Likewise the tightening food supply in King’s Landing that resulted from similar conditions in the south could have been more fully discussed in Small Council sessions or elsewhere, which seem to focus more on the threat of Stannis/Renly and Joffrey’s depredations, both important topics but no less than the civil unrest in the city—which exploded in a riot against the royal party and the deaths of several of them.

Character power rankings for season two (actor’s actual age next to their name):

  1. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage, 42): though not remotely as out of nowhere as Michael K. Williams portrayal of Omar Devon Little in The Wire (Dinklage had already starred in the excellent, if indie, The Station Agent), Dinklage’s performance thus far for GOTR is shaping up to be one of the defining ones of post-2000 television. All of his interactions were strong, particularly his growing and budding relationships with Bronn and Lord Varys. Just fucking crushing it.
  2. Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen, 26): I noted Allen’s work earlier and almost put him prior to Dinklage
  3. Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie): her portrayal of rather difficult to cast and pull-off Brienne seemed to please the COTs folks. She wonderfully demonstrated the strength, awkwardness and insecurity of the complicated character.Her nascent interaction with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s (42) always entertaining Jaime Lannister portended good things for the upcoming seasons. I decided to put the rather limited Jaime here, since many of his strongest scenes came with Brienne, aside from his discussions with Catelyn and when he murders his cousin.
  4. Bronn (Jerome Flynn, 49): he continued to compliment Tyrion brilliantly as his hired sword and at times the voice of pessimistic, pragmatic rebuke.
  5. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner, 16): Turner, who seems to get taller every episode, added more nuance to her walking-on-eggshells role as Sansa and rose to the more challenging version of the role that this season demanded.
  6. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams, 15): she had excellently chemistry with Gendry (Joe Dempsie, 25) and, in a surprising departure from the book, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance, 66). The young actors and actresses in this show continue to be a real strength, whereas all too often in other programs and films they wind up being a liability. Dempsie played a supporting role but was strong in it. COTs criticized Dance’s Tywin as softening up the ruthless tyrant through his verbal sparring with Arya. I included both of these characters in with Arya since they primarily played off her—and of course, the character who always brings a knight to a battle, Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey).
  7. Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleason, 20) – COT explained it cogently that if you seriously disliked Joffrey, it was a great acting performance because you are supposed to hate him. It is sort of funny that Turner is still a teenager but looks as old or older than the twenty year old Gleason.
  8. Ygritte (Rose Leslie, 25) – largely saved Jon Snow’s character from being too annoying and set up some interesting moral conundrums for both herself and Snow in the coming season
  9. Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha, 39) – excellent casting and execution for this character. His game of death with Arya was one of the strongest ongoing plots of the season. And he kicked a chicken.
  10. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey, 39): Headey artfully displayed Cersei’s growing despondency in being unable to reign in her increasingly horrible boy-king as well as her great love for her own children, while not softening her own despicable qualities
  11. Sandor Clegane “The Hound” (Rory McCann, 43) – the Hound expanded quite a bit and McCann did a fine job in expressing the character’s bizarre protectiveness he feels toward Sansa that he quite doesn’t know how to deal with.
  12. Petyr Baelish “Little Finger” (Aidan Gillen, 44): Baelish became a bit more one-dimensional in his assholishness, partly due to the writers’ constant reminders to the audience (threatening Ros, traveling all over looking to make alliances behind everyone’s back). Still Gillen had a remarkable ability to make Baelish seem like a decent person to more trusting acquaintances, which he eminently is not.
  13. Lord Varys “The Spider” (Conleth Hill, 48) – liked Varys a lot more this season as he seemed to be a more nuanced character who may actually have the safety of the realm as his primary goal. Also his growing report, and even budding friendship, with Tyrion was excellent.
  14. Jon Snow (Kit Harrington, 26) – I mentioned the idiocy issue with Snow and Harrington seemed to be emo’ing pretty hard most of the season, but his interactions with Ygritte made up for many of the shortfalls.
  15. Shae (Sibel Kekilli, 32) – Shae’s dialogue still seems a little wooden though her relationship with Tyrion became more intriguing.
  16. Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) – I blame the writer’s for running this character into the ground despite Fairley’s efforts
  17. Robb Stark (Richard Madden, 26) – not a ton of depth and becoming ensorcelled by Talisa was a difficult sell. Robb’s wife in the book (who is not Talisa) was also a nurse but one that happened to care for him when he was injured in battle, making the relationship more intimate and less like an obvious spying attempt
  18. Bran Stark (Issac Hempstead Wright) and Art Packinson (Rickon Stark) – these kids did a fine job in both their bewilderment with Theon’s betrayal and their despondency when Theon kills Rodrick
  19. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) – providing some expository dialogue as well as one of the few Night’s Watchmen to actually show interest in women, Samwell was again played well in his limited though interesting role. Not sure why he wasn’t immediately killed by the Double Dubs at the end of season though.
  20. Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham, 51) – Cunningham is one of the more established actors in the cast and played Ser Davos well. He was blown clean off his ship in the wildfire strike but I would imagine we see him again.
  21. Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter, 69) – was great in his care of his wards at Winterfell and even his impassioned plea for Theon to give up his mad power trip and join the Night’s Watch
  22. Craster (Robert Pugh, 62) – Mr. Pugh you play a fine creepshow. Craster was played exactly right, someone trying to overcompensate with swagger for all the horrible shit he’s doing.
  23. Osha (Natalie Tena, 28) – the actress did a fine job though Osha seems something like a place-filler rather than a main driver of the plot. The bizarre scene where Maester Luwin notices her creeping around in broad daylight didn’t help matters.
  24. Hodor (Kristain Nairn): Hodor.
  25. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke, 25) – unfortunately the talented actress only really showed some range in the final episode as she spent most of the season whining or rehashing the same problems. However, her brief scene with Jason Momoa’s Drogo was heart-wrenching.
  26. Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen, 51) – same deal with Daenerys, just not much to work with here.
  27. Ros (Esmé Bianco, 30) – Bianco showed more emotion this season but in peculiar places although the final season portended a possibly larger role for her as an ally of Lord Varys.
  28. Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) – very well played for a brief role in shaming Alfie Allen’s Theon and goading him into eminently stupid maneuvers.
  29. Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo, 64) – we didn’t see much of him this season beyond his annoyance at Jon Snow’s bumbling as well as his discomfort at dealing with Craster.
  30. Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) – a continuation of last season’s fine performance of a fine politician but lacking in warrior credentials. His utter disgust at Margaery Tyrell’s advances and his interactions with his brother Stannis were fascinating scenes.
  31. Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer, 30) – a very calculating character and Dormer’s performance was spot on, particularly in her purely functional sex scene with Renly.
  32. Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) – Yara was an interesting character but we didn’t quite see enough of her. Still her ability to switch from sarcastically brutal warship captain to seemingly caring sister was impressive.
  33. Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon, 20) – Tyrion’s manipulation of Lancel was hilarious and Simon captured both Lancel’s petulance and his position several steps behind everyone else’s scheming.
  34. Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin, 26) – a confusing character that appears to be the concatenation of two different characters from the book (Rob’s wife is a nurse but isn’t the character Talisa, and being a nurse she helped his recovery after being injured in battle and they fell in love in that way). Although the hook for Talisa was her challenging of Rob’s sense of justice in his war, the relationship pretext was somewhat flimsy given the risks involved—angering the Frays, the possibility of Talisa being a spy or just the complete lack of knowledge of her background or allegiances.
  35. Melisandre (Carice van Houten, 36) – I thought Melisandre was overacted to an extent and every scene with her seemed to be a bit melodramatic. Still, shadow baby.
  36. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane, 56): partly due to the fact that Stannis is simply a boring, black and white character, this performance wasn’t lacking but then again didn’t have much to bring. Curiously, Dillane seemed to be rather unimposing for a brooding, uncompromising and brutally effective general that was suggested in season one. The ridiculous though tantalizing off-season rumors of Gerard Butler in the role did nothing to help this perception.
  37. “Dolorous” Eddison Tollet (Ben Crompton, 38) – a small role as a bit of dark comic relief in the Night’s Watch and Crompton did a solid job. The character and delivery reminded me somewhat of Marvin’s role in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
  38. Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) – Pyat Pree was delightfully vicious and spooky with a death scene that defined the way the go out on this program.
  39. Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones, 24) – limited but his anger at Renly’s murder was powerful.
  40. Dagmer Cleftjaw (Ralph Ineson, 43) – always great when some salty asshole repeatedly goads Theon into being reckless seemingly for his own amusement.
  41. Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover, 77) – creepy as ever
  42. Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) – Hey Roose, you’re scaring us.
  43. Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) – well done in a limited role.
  44. Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie, 33) – an interesting character who’s motivations weren’t sufficiently explored—Anozie did a fine job of playing his cards fairly close to vest while communicating some hard truths to Dany. And why was he seemingly completely unguarded by any compatriots after slaughtering the thirteen and becoming king of the city?
  45. Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) – see you on the Wall, asshole.
  46. Ser Illyn Payne (Wilko Johnson) – Hey Ser Illyn, Podrick is way cooler than you. He stabbed a guy through the fucking face.
  47. Quaithe (Laura Pradelska) – what the fuck was with her? I feel this character had potential but was never properly utilized or explained.

Placeholders:

  • Grenn (Mark Stanley)
  • Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman – according to IMDB, he has “a powerful baritone singing voice”)
  • Tommen Baratheon (Callum Wharry)
  • Myrcella Baratheon (Aimee Richardson)

Way to die, assholes:

  • The Tickler (Anthony Morris)
  • The Spice King (Nicholas Blane)
  • Loomy Greenhands (Eros Vlahos, 17)
  • Doreah (Roxanne McKee, 32)
  • Rodrik Cassel (Ron Donachie, 56)
  • Irri (Amrita Acharia)
  • Rakharo (Elyes Gabel, 29)

Predictions of a sort:

  • Hotpie’s thousand year reign as lord of the seven kingdoms begins next season.
  • I have no idea what Dany is up to next season. Although, the way the show played it, couldn’t she have revealed the plot of XXD and Pyat Pree (good band name) and her successful quashing of it, become ruler (at least in part, possibly taking over the some of the business ventures of the thirteen, or at least having Ser Jorah do so) and bidding her time building resources for an army and protecting the dragons behind the high walls of Qarth until they became fire-spewing death machines?
  • Rob is fucked. To take a line from every horror movie ever, why was marrying Talisa a bad idea? Because it’s really obviously a bad idea.
  • What the hell is going on in Winterfell and what are the Boltons up to? I would imagine that the Boltons might have turned on the Starks to play an advantage while their main force was in the South. Why? Roose wants to know what Rob looks like without skin BECAUSE HE IS FUCKED IN THE HEAD.
  • George RR Martin describes Arya and Gendry’s relationship in graphic detail and inappropriately too early. HBO avoids this like it’s a nuclear device or something. I actually get the impression that despite Martin’s willingness to use creepy sex in his books, Arya and Gendry’s friendship doesn’t take the turn this direction any time soon—more of a brother-sister thing (like her relationship with Jon Snow).
  • Sansa Stark’s position becomes increasingly precarious given her main protectors—Tyrion, Shae and the Hound—have lost most of their power or disappeared. However, she’s smart enough to stave off Lord Baelish’s also inappropriate advances unless she somehow is able to bring someone along to guarantee her safety. I have a strange idea that Ser Loras pursues her, despite her traitor blood and in part because he likes her and feels somewhat abashed at pushing her out as queen in favor of his sister. Ser Loras strikes me as similar to his sister in his pragmatism—though his feelings for Renly were considerably more genuine than Margaery’s, there was an element that the relationship was undertaken to promote the interests of the Tyrell family. He seems like he could be a switch-hitter and showed some affection, possibly only feigned, for Sansa in the season one jousting scene where he handed her a flower before his match (she also displayed, rather unthinkingly, affection for him in worriedly pleading with his father not to allow the Mountain to hurt him). This one is a stretch, but it has an interesting ring to it. Ser Loras seems uninterested in the throne without Renly in the mix and his family’s position is secure with his sister’s ascension. Naturally a courting of Sansa would likely be frowned upon, though it wouldn’t have to be formal or overt, potentially more in the vein of the Hound’s own protection of Sansa. Also possible that at some point he joins with Brienne to hunt down Stannis.
  • Speaking of Stannis, he and the fire witch set about making more shadow babies and Ser Davos, like Lord Varys, becomes increasingly concerned about the reliance on the Lord of Light.
  • Jon Snow and Ygritte bump uglies, or at least engage in some heavy non-direwolf petting. Jon’s position becomes more isolated when the double dubs nearly wipe out the Night’s Watch force, a small contingent of which repel annihilation with the obsidian knives. The Night’s Watch, who have made deals with more unsavory characters in the past and have some intelligence from Jon Snow to fall back on, ally with Mance Rayder’s considerably larger wildling force and retreat to the Wall having realized the extent of the double dub threat.
  • A reinvigorated Tywin Lannister consolidates his position and finally scores a victory against an increasingly distracted Rob Stark, forcing him to retreat North. The Lannister-Tyrell alliance shows little interest in pursuing Rob Stark, content to harass his southernmost bannermen with the Mountain’s raiders and letting the Greyjoys and possibly the Boltons sap his strength with their own raids while they rebuild their strength in the south and deal with the lingering threat of Stannis. The Lannister alliance also becomes aware that Rob has lost Jaime and eventually discovers Brienne and Jaime. Jaime negotiates Brienne’s safety from Lannister swords having seen her prowess as a warrior, as well as her potentially useful hatred of Stannis or lack of strong allegiance to the Starks. Ser Loras and Tyrion are sent north with Sansa to negotiate a truce with Rob, although this may be trap. Tywin remains irate when he finds out that Arya is unaccounted for.
  • Arya stumbles in the camp where these negotiations are being held (possibly at the Twins) but does not play her Bravosian coin this season.
  • Rob surprisingly concludes the negotiations ceding most territory to the Lannister alliance in exchange for his sister and free reign in Winterfell and surrounding lands, in part because he has received word from Jon Snow about the situation beyond the Wall (as well as the relative safety of Osha, Bran, Rickon and Hodor who have arrived there) and that he needs his southern flank secure to put down the Greyjoy and Bolton rebellions. The Lannister alliance allows Rob to remain in a position of power in part because they trust the Greyjoys and Boltons far less than the more honorable Starks and likewise need a secure northern flank to focus on crushing Stannis. They, except for Tyrion, place no stock in the grave warnings from the Wall and make no offer to help in that regard. The Lannister gambit to destroy Stannis goes about as well as Stannis’ invasion of King’s Landing.
  • Unfortunately these predictions don’t incorporate any other families or new characters and thus are seriously lacking. Except for the Hotpie prognostication. Hotpie is invincible. And everyone loves pie.

[1] Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for instance, was a valiant attempt but largely missed the book’s dry satirical vision

[2] Albeit the podcasters generally react to roughly 90% of the female nudity as scandalous and anti-female. For instance, the creepy sex watching of Little Finger in his brothel was deemed unnecessary. Although designed to titillate to certain extent, there wasn’t anything terribly pornographic or lingering. Moreover, the purpose of the scene was more to demonstrate Little Finger’s watchfulness and willingness to use anything he came across to his advantage, including betraying his clients if it came to that. They also heavily objected to the “play with her ass” scene as completely unnecessarily pornographic. The scene did have some important exposition inasmuch as Baelish reveals his desire for Katelyn Stark and some back story to the point where he challenged her first intended husband (Ned Stark’s brother) to a duel that he certainly would have lost given his lack of martial ability and stature. But then he points out, as the two prostitutes are performing on one another, that although he can’t fight his enemies he can fuck them. He also instructs the ladies in seduction in pretending to let one’s guard down and convincing someone else you have let them into your confidence. Indeed, this scene depicts that Little Finger, as he is no warrior nor high-born has to manipulate his way to power much as the women in Westeros do—by using sex or, less directly, people’s emotions and trust. Also, there seems to be the perception that the equivalent of a woman bearing her breasts was a man whipping out his dick. People, societal reproach (particularly in the U.S.) at the sight of tits aside, the corollary of a woman’s bare breast is a man without his shirt on—male nipples are essentially vestigial female organs  (Live Science puts it more bluntly). This is also a show that had three half-naked young men standing around getting their hair cut, just bro’ing out and Gendry flexing with a sword for no reason  other than providing Chris Hansen with some fodder for doing it in front of a 12 year old girl. The female nudity outweighs the male but this door definitely swings both ways. Then again, Howard Hughes may have had a point.

[3] Apparently chapters in the book are all written from a particular character’s point of view and since Theon does have a viewpoint, his motivations are not depicted.

[4] If no one could know, why even pretend to kill them in the first place? That is, if one is trying to demonstrate strength, has does something barely anyone knows about accomplish that

[5] This piece of jewelry was in fact remarked upon by Theon in season one and not retconned as initially claimed by COT

[6] By the way, although there is a certain ethereal quality to it given its green color, wildfire is probably a reference to the real world Greek Fire, which, according to an excellent article on io9, was likely an early version of napalm (COT seemed unclear on the point, but  napalm does in fact explode in similar fashion as Tyrion’s wildfire ship in the episode). Wildfire and Greek fire were both closely guarded secrets and Greek fire on at least two historical occasions was instrumental in defeating superior naval forces. Curiously via the same io9 article, Song of Ice and Fire’s Valerian steel may also have a real world corollary itself in Damascus steel.


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